establishing an online presence: social media networks

"Hiraqla," Frank Stella, 1968. Found 3rd floor, Art of the Americas wing

As with the MFA’s website, I had never seen any examples of the museum’s usages of social media prior to my visit, and therefore cannot draw any sort of pre- and post-wing comparisons. Rather, I will analyze the methods that the institution currently has in place for using its social media tools, examining how exactly they were used to the museum’s advantage regarding the promotion of the new Art of the America’s wing and the creation of the MFA’s new image.

As mentioned before, links to all of the MFA’s social media sites can be found on a single, specific page on the MFA main website. It’s a great approach to organize all these outside features together, so that if people are interested in one type, they still will see all the other sorts of networks that the MFA employs. Also as I have said before, I am sure other museums and institutions will be moving in this direction. From the arts organization websites I have examined, which is quite a lot over the past semester for all my various courses, my perception is that the MFA’s “Buzz” feature is rather unique. Many organizations allow visitors to add photos to their Flickr or retweet any mentions, but this is the first time that I have seen this visitor participation all compiled together and highlighted so heavily on an organization’s website. This obviously is a major component of the “dialogue” aspect that the museum was seeking with its website redesign, a way to get people excited about talking about and engaging with the institution and its art. To me, this feature suggests that the MFA was lucky enough to be implementing an online redesign at precisely the right moment. Museums all seem headed in the direction of seeking to engage their visitors and also at adding certain interactive components that a wider audience has come to expect. The MFA redesign, with the page just with links to their social media sites and the “Buzz” section that highlights visitor participation, fully incorporates the new trends to their advantage.

To begin my analysis of the MFA’s usages of the available social media tools, I want to start with my least favorite, their Flickr page. The MFA’s Flickr page is successful in that it allows visitors to post their own images, tag them as the MFA, making them all available together. There are two aspects that I don’t like – that the museum does not post any of their own images (that I could find) and also, that the majority of the images, more specifically none that are of the Art of the Americas wing, are not Creative Commons and restricted from use (which explains in part why all the images used in this blog are all my own from my visit). I found this rather frustrating, though I am not sure if there is a solution, as the institution cannot control what visitors mark their images as. Perhaps, the MFA can add their own set of pictures that are Creative Commons and available for fair use purposes. This would definitely further the sense of participation and the feeling that the museum wants an equal engagement with viewers.

The museum’s Foursquare page has a decent number of check-ins, but not a lot of comment participation and none made recently or after the opening of the new wing. One way that I have seen arts organizations use Foursquare successfully is by having contests for check-ins that offer prices such as merchandise or free tickets. The MFA might want to consider this approach for activating a stronger level of participation on the page.

The museum goes a long way towards making up for these weaker networks, with their other social media pages. Their YouTube page is a great place for them to post the videos that they produced to correspond to the new wing. They have several categories of videos, including “The New MFA” and “Behind the Scenes.”  The former playlist has a slide show of a step by step view of the construction process of the new wing, videos of gallery installations and a virtual tour of the wing with Director Malcolm Rogers. These elements provide a wealth of information – the virtual tour about what can be seen in the wing, and the videos of installations with a behind the scenes look at how much work went into the display of the artwork in the wing. In combination with the “Buzz” page on the MFA website, that provides link to visitor’s videos as well, the MFA does a great job of providing informative material in an interesting way. The videos can be seen as both educational and also as means of stirring up interest in the wing and to draw visitors.

The museum’s strongest usage of its social media networks are its Facebook and Twitter pages, probably because these two are the types of networks most geared towards conversation and participation and lend themselves most readily to the museum’s goal of creating a dialogue. When I began this project, I started following them on both pages to see what sorts of things they post and how often. Both the Twitter and Facebook page have the same links and comments posted, and are undoubtedly populated at the same time. On the Twitter page, the MFA retweets any mentions, which seems to be standard operation procedure for most organizations using Twitter as a tool. This is useful in allowing the MFA to recognize visitor engagement and participation. The posts deal with everything from mentioning upcoming events at the museum, linking to articles about the museum, specifically the new wing, and to “talk” to their followers. In one example, a visitor posted that all they wanted for christmas was a trip to the MFA. The MFA’s response? Offering her free tickets on Twitter. I found this direct and connective interaction very interesting. Again, this is an area in which the MFA is simply following a trend, but in my opinion, with a greater focus on connecting with their online followers than most institutions. I think a current struggle for many arts organizations, and other organizations in general, is turning an online following into a real visitor. By acknowledging visitor’s comments and informing of a variety of events that are offered, the MFA seems to be making real connections and successfully linking the two.

The Facebook page, which is populated with the same information as on the Twitter posts, also has managed to facilitate a conversation between the museum and its visitors. People actively engage with the posts, “liking them” or commenting. Fans of the page also add their own MFA photos to the wall. Whoever monitors the MFA’s page does a good job of answering questions, thanking people for their comments and pictures, and replying to comments in general. This is a really nice aspect, as it keeps the interaction on the page two-sided and more engaging than using it as a means to simply post news or event items.

I also subscribed to the MFA’s email list when I visited. The museum uses this tool very effectively, sending updates and items of interest, but definitely not too often. Using something like an email blast very strategically, rather than bombarding the contacts with too many emails, is a nice approach. The well-spaced emails ensure that I actually open and read them. Often, organizations or companies tend to overuse their email list, which I find annoys me and makes me want to unsubscribe. In this, I think the MFA effectively uses this tool to their advantage.

Overall, I think that the MFA very successfully utilizes its social media networks. While some are used more successfully than others, in concert, all come together to create the opportunity to market to and engage with an online audience. The social networks allow the MFA to successfully continue the dialogue with visitors and potential visitors that they seek to start on their website. The wide range of online networks also casts a wide net and ensures the museum maximum exposure to the widest range of audience. I would be interested to find out if this participatory, conversation-like approach is more successful in turning online followers into on site guests than other more monologue-type, informative uses of networks. It will be fascinating to see how arts organizations continue to use these sorts of resources in the future.

 

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About rb2470

transplant from the mountains of CO, still becoming accustomed to big apple life. graduate student in visual arts administration at new york university. currently acquiring expert level knowledge of the best cafes to drink coffee, consume pastries, and utilize free wi-fi in the east village.
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